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eCommerce Marketing for B2B Start Ups_blog

Events — 31 Mar 2022

eCommerce Marketing for B2B Start Ups

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12 Ways to Do B2B eCommerce Marketing for Start Ups

The world of B2B eCommerce business is much as it sounds to say this sentence aloud: a busy mouthful. Between juggling mounting piles of inventory and maintaining customer relationships, it’s not easy. Add marketing to the mix and the word ‘startup’, and it becomes a whole lot more difficult. 

Navigating the world of B2B marketing is already tricky, but navigating the world of B2B eCommerce is even more complex. You’re not selling to customers as a standard B2C business would; you’re retailing merchandise directly to another company, and the competition is stiff. Multinational giant Amazon has already started heading into B2B eCommerce territory, so you’re going to need to stand out. 

Startups are up against it in this arena. Aside from competing with giants like Amazon and eBay, you’re going to have to fight against all the smaller niche B2b eCommerce businesses as well. One way to set yourself apart from the crowd is with solid B2B eCommerce marketing strategies.

Read on for a deep dive into all things B2B and eCommerce, and learn how to set up a marketing strategy that hits all the sweet spots.

What is B2B marketing?

Simply put, B2B (business-to-business) is a transaction that takes place between two companies, with one selling services or products to the other. A few prominent examples include IBM, Google, and Apple (though they can also double as B2C businesses at times too). 

B2B customers are simply businesses that buy a product or service from another business for use in their organization. This could be in the form of automation software, SEO tools, or photo editing systems. 

B2B marketing is all about creating content and gearing your marketing strategy toward a specific type of business, aka your target audience. While networking is essential to building relationships and pulling in new customers, it should be used as part of a much wider marketing plan.

B2C vs B2B marketing

As we briefly mentioned, B2C is a transaction that takes place between a business and a consumer. Some notable examples of B2C businesses include Hollister, McDonald’s, and Jeep. 

Unlike B2B marketing, B2C marketing is focused on creating content and building a marketing strategy geared toward the consumer rather than another company.

B2B marketing vs B2B eCommerce marketing

B2B buyers and B2B eCommerce buyers are pretty much one and the same, but there’s a slight difference between these two types of companies too, which affects how you’ll need to market your goods and/or services. 

While both types of B2B companies can be wholesale or retail, B2B eCommerce companies only sell online. They will not have a shopfront or retail premises where customers can come to view or trial their products, so their marketing will need to be purely digital in nature.   

Despite the slight difference in business processes, however, B2B marketing and B2B eCommerce marketing follow a very similar pattern, and you can often use the same marketing strategy and materials for both.

Why is B2B marketing important for eCommerce startups?

B2B marketing for eCommerce startups

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B2B marketing is important for any eCommerce business that’s targeting this audience, but it’s even more important for entrepreneurs and startups. Marketing is the backbone of your organization. It’s what builds brand awareness and entices potential customers (in this case, other businesses) to buy your products.

If you go straight to selling as a startup without a solid marketing strategy, chances are you won’t make many sales. After all, you’re virtually unknown!

However, by creating a strategic marketing plan, you can thrust your business into the limelight and bring in more customers, making lead generation that much easier. Once you have that initial audience in place, you’ve then got to be consistent with your marketing strategy. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an online store or brick-and-mortar: you must keep at it and continue analyzing your marketing efforts both during and beyond the duration of your marketing campaigns.

How to get started

How to do B2B marketing

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Before you dive into marketing, you’ve got to lay out a solid strategy and ground plan. This is especially true if you’re a startup or entrepreneur who’s just begun on your B2B eCommerce venture. 

You probably don’t know enough about your audience and market to make the right kinds of decisions, so prepping will give you a better idea of what you’re working with and the steps you need to take to meet your objectives. 

Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled a rough guide of everything you should go over before hitting launch on your marketing efforts.

Researching your market

First off, what’s meant by the word ‘market’? Though this term can describe your industry, it’s more commonly used to refer to your target audience.

Scope out valuable information on your audience’s personas, behaviors, and pain points, so you can better understand your product’s role in your customers’ lives. This helps answer questions like “will my product be received well by my audience?” and “how viable is my business?”

As part of your research, you’ll want to find out:

  • Where your ideal businesses ‘hang out’ (where do they shop, which of your competitors do they like, where do they conduct their service research, and so on).
  • What kinds of trends are popular in your niche and how your target audience respond to them.
  • What your customer’s pain points are, and how your products can help them meet their objectives.
  • What pushes your target audience to purchase a product or service.

This might seem like a big undertaking, but carrying out market research isn’t that difficult to do. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Send out surveys, emails, and quizzes to understand your target market better.
  • Perform a competitive analysis (more on this later).
  • Set up your brand’s ICP (more on this below).

Creating an ICP

Creating an ICP

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ICP is short for ‘ideal customer profile’. It essentially refers to a much more segmented approach to performing market research. 

It’s all about creating a detailed outline of your ideal customer (the one who spends a lot, aka the one who will become an asset to your company). These are the best kinds of buyers, and creating an ICP makes it easier to identify them.

Once you’ve created your ICP, you can start honing in on these shoppers, analyzing their purchasing decisions to get a better idea of their habits and ways you can use these to your advantage.

ICPs are similar to customer personas; they just come at it from a different angle. While customer personas are focused on creating a great user experience, ICPs consider which business will benefit most from your products.

Performing a competitive analysis

Next up, it’s time to perform a competitive analysis. This essentially means gathering a bunch of information directly relating to your competitors. You analyze their habits, marketing tactics, products, and consumer base so you can see where you need to improve. 

You may find there’s a gap in the market you can fill. Wherever you see a chance to set yourself apart from others, you must do so.

So, how do you perform a competitive analysis?

Determine who your competitors are

Finding your competitors shouldn’t be too difficult – look at your industry and see who’s selling similar products or has a comparable operating model. Once you’ve got this information, it’s time to segment them into groups.

They’ll either be indirect or direct competitors. Direct competitors are businesses that sell a similar product in the exact same niche as your organization. Indirect competitors are businesses that compete to meet a similar customer need but create slightly different products (a good example would be Subway and Wendy’s).

Even if you’re not an enterprise or global business, it doesn’t hurt to benchmark yourself against the top dogs and incorporate a few of their marketing tactics.

Collect information on your competitors’ marketing tactics

Collecting information on your competitors’ marketing methods is a great way to see if they’re doing anything you’re not and keep ahead of the curve. It’s also useful for discovering new and insightful tactics you might not have come across before.

You can easily get hold of this information online by using either special analytics software or analyzing their customer base through a CRM lens. Ask yourself questions like, “why did they choose XYZ over your business?” and “what do they like about XYZ’s approach?”

Analyze their social and online presence
Analyze social and online presence

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As a B2B eCommerce business, you’re selling to other businesses. This can make it all too easy to fall into the trap of creating dry, dull content. Sure, you might be marketing to another organization, but why be boring? You’ve got to stand out from the crowd and set yourself apart from all the other B2B eCommerce businesses out there.

One way to do this is by analyzing your competitors’ social and online presences and then approaching your own social media and digital marketing strategy a little differently. 

For example, if most of your competitors use jargon and high-brow language, try switching yours up with casual phrases. Not only will this give your brand a unique TOV amongst everyone else’s, but what you say is more likely to stick in your customers’ minds.

Establishing your USP

Establishing USP

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USP is short for ‘unique selling point’, and figuring yours out is a crucial part of your marketing strategy. In fact, it’s what you’ll build your brand around and flaunt to customers. It means determining what makes your B2B eCommerce business special and what sets it apart from your competitors. 

This could be something as simple as a special loyalty scheme you’ve set up for returning businesses or even the way you write your copy or communicate with prospective clients.

Setting your budget

You also can’t start marketing without knowing your budget. That means understanding how much you currently make and your annual profit. 

There are a few things you can do to set up a successful and sustainable marketing budget, such as:

  • Estimating your monthly expenses and costs
  • Estimating monthly profit and gross profit
  • Estimating marketing and sales expenses
  • Calculating your net profit margin
  • Setting up an emergency fund for a ‘rainy day’
  • Calculating your estimated B2B eCommerce conversion rate (divide the number of conversions by the total number of site visitors)
  • Setting up budget reviews

Without a pre-determined budget, you risk overspending and losing more money than you make. After all, a marketing strategy is no good if it ends up breaking the bank, so put aside some time to analyze your finances each month.

Pulling together and organizing data from different sources isn’t always easy, however. Valuable information can get lost, and silos can start to form in your organization. 

Luckily, you can keep all this info central and more easily manage data from various marketing channels with software like Affise BI – a platform full of the tools, services, and instruments needed to collect and organize data in one central place. 

12 B2B eCommerce marketing strategies you should know

B2B eCommerce marketing strategies

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Now you’ve nailed your marketing plan, it’s time to move on to its execution. Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled 12 of the top strategies for digital and offline marketing, which are perfect for a small business or B2B eCommerce startup.

1. B2B content marketing

Content will make up the majority of your marketing campaign and is a great way of connecting with your audience. Not only does it build trust and educate customers on what you’re all about, but it boosts brand awareness.

Before you can start crafting content for your eCommerce platform, you’ll need to have a solid brand tone of voice (TOV). This is who you are as a business – your values and personality – reflected in writing across your digital marketing channels.

Once you’ve nailed your TOV, you’ve got to be consistent in your messaging and the regularity of your content. You should have some sort of schedule in place, otherwise, you risk falling back and losing the attention of your customers again. 

An easy way to create and stick to a schedule is to use marketing automation software. This can handle basic tasks without the need for someone stepping in, freeing up time for you to focus on the most important matters at hand. The most common marketing automation workflows you’ll find include lead prioritization, email marketing, and personalized advertising.

Content marketing comes in many forms, so you’ll want to include a broad mix of pieces in your strategy. Some of the most popular include:

  • Blogs and written content
  • Video and audio content (Youtube posts, podcasts, social media reels, etc.)
  • Premium content (exclusive webinars, whitepapers, case studies, and so on)
  • Partner marketing (i.e. generating traffic to your website through a third-party, also known as an affiliate partnership).

Partner marketing isn’t always easy to navigate, however, especially if you don’t have some kind of tracking system in place. If you have affiliate campaigns coming in from all directions, you’re going to have a hard time monitoring their success. 

Luckily, there are tools out there to help you, such as Affise. This helps brands take back control of their affiliate campaigns by providing a single platform where they can manage everything. That means tracking, optimization, and recruitment are made much easier.

2. Customer-focused FAQs

Unlike the average B2C buyer’s journey, the B2B buyer’s is riddled with questions. They’ll want to know more about the specifications and small details of your product than a regular consumer would so make sure you give them the information they need.

This is partly about educating your customers and partly about giving them a better customer experience, both of which will lead to increased sales and lead generation. An easy way to provide this information is through detailed and customer-focused FAQs. 

These are some of the things you’ll want to include in your FAQs:

  • Product specifications and particular features
  • Details on shipping and logistics
  • Details on product tracking
  • Information on your B2B eCommerce business and what exactly you sell
  • Pricing information for one-off buyers and also returning and/or regular customers

3. B2B email marketing

B2B email marketing

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A sub-category of content marketing, email marketing is a surefire way to build leads and increase trust among customers. Just because you’re selling to another business doesn’t mean your content has to be dull, boring, or impersonal.

Set yourself apart from your competitors and try creating a newsletter or weekly/monthly email that tells your customers about the latest company news, offers, and special discounts. 

If you want to take things up a notch, you can even include elements of brand storytelling and have a few sections dedicated to user content (for example, what’s trending in eCommerce). 

Used alongside your other pieces of content, email marketing campaigns will help you engage and interact with customers. Instead of just being a wholesaler, you’ll start to forge a brand identity and reputation. The great thing about email marketing is a lot of it can be rolled out without human interference.

Once you’ve written up the content and personalized it, you can use automation and marketing tools specifically aimed at shooting out emails, meaning you can send them to your subscribers without having to lift a finger.

4. A high-quality website

Online eCommerce companies often get a bad rap for their websites, especially when they’re in the B2B market. Poorly designed websites, boring copy, fluffed-up language and lots of jargon… At the end of the day, you’re still selling to a customer. It doesn’t matter if they’re another business – they want as smooth and easy a user experience as a B2C consumer would get. 

Take a look at your current website. Does it need a revamp? If pages are lagging, images take longer to load, and your homepage is looking a little stale (cue the classic B2B site; lots of different colored shapes on a white background), it’s time for a transformation. 

It doesn’t matter how many hours you put into your marketing efforts – if your website is poorly designed, it’s going to put customers off. Go through your site and do a deep clean of your homepage, landing pages, and checkout. Poke around and tweak until you get pages that are fully optimized with the latest software (this will prevent lagging and ensure quick load times). 

This is also the perfect time to up your SEO (search engine optimization) game. Your website is one of the first things a Google bot sees, so you’ve got to learn how to speak to search engines. A few tips: optimize all your headings, use meta descriptions, do your keyword research, and try to scatter your site content with relevant inbound and outbound links. 

5. Optimizing your online presence

Optimizing online presence

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Next up, take a look at your B2B eCommerce store’s online presence. If the only thing it has going for it is a basic website, it’s time to up your game. As a startup business, you need to get out there and increase brand awareness. The only way you’re going to do this is with a more visible online presence.

A strong digital presence gives you a platform to communicate and engage with potential customers and gets your startup business in front of fresh eyes. Remember that customers, particularly B2B ones, are likely to do a lot of research before making a purchasing decision, so make sure your brand is easy to find and that they’re likely to stumble across it. 

A few easy ways to build your digital presence include:

  • Setting up a LinkedIn business page 
  • Setting up social media accounts (more on this later)
  • Creating digital content for your customers
  • Carrying out partner marketing with a third-party or influencer from a similar niche

Unfortunately, partner marketing is easier said than done The hardest part is selecting and scoping out your partners. Where should you look? Which ones will suit your industry? Are they trustworthy? 

Don’t despair! There’s help available. You can expand your partnerships and accelerate business growth with Affise Reach, which has a network of partners at the ready. These will be fully vetted and cherrypicked to suit your brand, meaning all your affiliate networking needs are taken care of for you.

6. Customer reviews

One of the most powerful B2B marketing strategies is the use of customer testimonials and reviews. Feedback from happy buyers is always important, but it’s even more crucial for a B2B company. As a business-to-business eCommerce store, you’re likely going to be selling wholesale to your customers (and that often means selling in bulk). 

Those customers are going to want to know you’re trustworthy and can deliver high-quality products. So, be sure to feature reviews that address these areas as well as shipping, ordering, and ease of transactions. 

You might also want to feature a few case studies that show your customer’s success or satisfaction after using your product. This could be something as simple as sharing how many buyers purchase from you on a recurring basis. The more returning customers you have, the more reliable and trustworthy you’ll seem.

7. A/B testing

AB testing

A/B testing (also known as split testing) is a great way to test different areas of your site or compare marketing campaigns and identify any niggles. Essentially, you tweak a particular element and then see how your marketing efforts perform in comparison to their predecessors.  

You’ll also be able to see which parts of your site perform better with customers, giving you a chance to tweak and make changes that improve the user experience. 

With split-testing, you can test everything from your layouts, CTA buttons, and the checkout experience to the user’s interactions with images and video content.

8. Loyalty programs

The reality of B2B customers is that many are going to buy products from you in bulk. This kind of relationship often translates into a longer-term partnership. 

A great way to keep those customers happy is with a loyalty program or rewards scheme. It doesn’t have to be anything major. It could be as simple as rewarding repeat purchasers with a few coupons for extra referrals. 

Other types of referral programs include:

  • Points schemes
  • Spend schemes
  • Tiered schemes
  • Partner programs

9. Bulk-order options

As a B2B eCommerce business, your customers are probably going to be ordering quite a lot of the same products from you in large quantities. Make this experience as smooth as possible by outfitting your eCommerce site and inventory with easy bulk-order options and making sure you’re adequately stocked. 

You can push this in your marketing as a unique selling point, which is sure to up your attractiveness to customers who want to spend a large amount of money at once.   

10. Auto-replenish systems

Not only will B2B customers be ordering in bulk, but they’ll often need to place the same order on repeat. This is why it’s important to keep up-to-date with your stock and inventory systems – you don’t want to run low on something a customer regularly buys. If you do, you risk losing them to a competitor.

Stay ahead of the curve and prevent this problem with an auto-replenish system (a system that analyzes your inventory, re-ordering stock before it runs out). Then, advertise this element of your business in your marketing. 

11. Personal outreach

Personal outreach

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You should also show customers you care by taking the time to personally reach out to them. This could be in the form of a call, Zoom session, or even a letter – just make sure you keep up the interaction. 

It’s all good and well to send out a few emails here and there, but a personalized message or check-in can go a long way. As well as developing trust in your brand, personal outreach is a great way of getting feedback.

Here are a few things you could ask when checking in:

  • Have you been able to navigate our site well?
  • Could you suggest any areas for improvement?
  • How do you find our sales team?

If you want to make it extra special, try contacting your biggest customers on their birthdays with a personalized message and special gift. Small acts like these can leave a big impression and make them more loyal to your B2B eCommerce business.

12. Leverage social media

Leverage social media

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If you’re not on social media already, now is the time to transition to platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. A staple for most B2C brands, social media is a great way of bringing in new customers and increasing brand awareness. It becomes a little bit trickier if you’re a B2B business though. 

Since you’re selling something to other businesses, you need to make your social media content relevant to your audience yet creative. Don’t be a carbon copy of others in your industry. Just because the majority are putting up boring social content like tutorials and guides, doesn’t mean you have to. Mix up your approach and consider incorporating the latest industry trends with memes or comedic reels. 

You could even try getting a few influencers onboard – a surefire way to get your brand in front of fresh eyes. This might be a little tricker as a B2B eCommerce business, but you could reach out to other popular organizations that need the service/products you sell and link up with them.

While partner and influencer marketing isn’t always easy to navigate, it’s worth spending time on. However, rather than manually trying to find third-party advertisers that suit your niche, invest in tools that can help you. For example, with CPAPI, you can get rid of the hard work and use this data transfer system to automatically connect to new offers and advertisers.

The takeaway

As a B2B eCommerce startup, marketing is vital to grow your business and boost sales. It’s the only way you’ll be able to build a customer base from the ground up, so be sure to invest a decent amount of time into developing a solid marketing strategy moving forward.

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Nick Shaw

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Nick Shaw has been Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Brightpearl, the number one retail-focused digital operations platform which encompasses sales and inventory management software, accounting, logistics, CRM, and more, since July 2019 and is responsible for EMEA Sales, Global Marketing and Alliances. Before joining Brightpearl, Nick was GM and Vice President of the EMEA Consumer business at Symantec and was responsible for a $500m revenue business. Nick has written for sites such as Hubspot and G2. Here is Nick Shaw’s LinkedIn.